Beverage Seminar – Thelema Mountain Vineyards – Epcot International Food & Wine Festival 2012

Thelema Mountain Vineyards - Stellenbosch, South Africa

Thomas Webb, Winemaker

Chardonnay, Mountain Red, Cabernet Sauvignon

October 8, 2012

Thelema Chardonnay, Mountain Red, and Cabernet Sauvignon

We had not tried Thelema Mountain Wines before, for some reason when we were making our choices for this year’s Food & Wine Festival – we sort of got focused on lamb dishes and South African wines – so, here we are at another South African winery seminar.

Thomas Webb, Winemaker

Thomas started out by telling us what he wanted out of the seminar, he’s simply “hoping that we can order and enjoy South African wines.”

As Charl had done earlier, he told us that winemaking isn’t new to South Africa, the first vines were planted there in 1659 outside of Capetown. Capetown was a Dutch watering station (water, food, and wine) for the shipping industry… and wine was a part of a sailor’s daily rations (to help prevent scurvy).

Up until apartheid, South African wines tended to be lean, sour/bitter wines. After apartheid, South Africans began to travel more and the winemakers realized that most people don’t want lean/sour wines… and since winemakers want to sell their wines, they began to make wines that were more suited to the general palate.

The Thelema Mountain Vineyards is a family run vineyard and winery. It’s located outside of Capetown and they’re blessed with long, warm, dry summers and icy cold ocean currents from Antartica help cool the fruit down at night, plus they have cold, wet winters so the vines go completely dormant. In 1983, his dad convinced his grandparents to purchase an old fruit farm:

  • Dad made the wines, he studied in California
  • Mom dealt with the trade (getting the wines marketed, sold, and delivered)
  • Granddad was the finance man
  • Grandmom wasn’t too concerned about doing anything technical, she works in the tasting room and sells wines at the vineyard

These days, the grandparents and the parents are a bit less active in the winery (Thomas joked that his dad’s new hobby is skiing) – and Thomas is making wines, he studied in Australia. It’s a small operation, they want to make wines that reflect their own styles. Thomas says that winemakers are really just farmer – grow good grapes and you can make good wines. They strive to make leaner wines that aren’t fruit bombs.

They try to make natural wines

  • Keep sulfur as low as possible, by decreasing the amount of additives in the wine – fewer headaches/hangovers (Grandmom told a man in the wineshop that this wasn’t the reason that their wines produce fewer headaches the next morning, it’s because they put an aspirin in every bottle! Again, she’s avoiding the technical stuff.) – there’s more sulfur in orange juice and dried fruits than you’ll get from their wines
  • When the vines need nitrogen, they plant legumes (like soybeans) and mulch them back into the soil
  • To deal with insect pests, they use ladybugs and parasitic wasps.
  • They conserve water by mulching the soil
  • They keep their roads in the vineyards in good condition with rows of eucalyptus trees (they’re very water hungry and they block the wind)
  • They combat the slant nose beetle with cotton wool – they place the cotton wool around the trunk of the vines, the beetle can’t climb up into the plant to eat the shoots, ah ha beetle is thwarted

A few more notes from his discussion

  • “Thelema” means “God’s Will”
  • the Phoenix is the symbol for “Webb” and is thus the symbol for the winery
  • South African wines are a blend of Old World and New World wines
The Chinese have over 400 wineries – Watch out, they’re coming

Tasting Notes:

Thelema Chardonnay

  • lean wine
  • a lot of people are tired of the big, buttery, oaky Chardonnays
  • fruit is picked earlier – higher acid, zest, citrus
  • this wine in in French Oak for 10 months
  • nick’s notes: smells “bad,” hard to even get any smells because I just stop smelling it; too “bright” tasting; no fruit flavor at all for me, but it’s not “bitter” — on second try “no, no, no”
  • nora’s notes: kind of stinks, a little like soured rags; not too oaky — on second try as it warmed up a bit, well it’s okay
  • $29.95

Thelema Mountain Red

  • first made in 2005
  • blend of reds – the two major grapes are 42% Cabernet Sauvignon and 38% Shiraz
  • light blended red
  • nick’s notes: pleasant nose of a not too sweet stone fruit; dry but not too dry; slightly chalky on roof of mouth; not just for “drinking” — on second try would probably work with food
  • nora’s notes: opaque with decent tears, nose is spicy and fruity, foretaste is fruity and aftertaste is dry
  • $21.95

Thelema Cabernet Sauvignon

  • Thomas says that “to me Cab is King” and notes that this is their flagship wine
  • supposedly there are minty tones to the smell and taste of this wine, it’s due to the eucalyptus trees planted at the edges of the vineyards… they release phenol compounds that can drift onto the grapes and impart a slightly minty tone
  • nick’s notes: smells like mint and tobacco (not green tobacco but not cured tobacco either); dry!!!! but not in a bad way, it seems to work; I might be able to drink this without food if it stayed between 65-70F in the glass– on second try, yep, at the right temperature this is probably a nice wine to sip
  • nora’s notes: nose is sweet, smells like a cabernet sauvignon, some tobacco leaf scents; taste is more dried fruits than my favorite, finish is not too dry or chalky
  • $54

One last note: their Merlot sounds very good from the description and is available at Jiko at the Animal Kingdom Lodge

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